Fulfilling a dream
A dream come true: Danielle Ta'Sheena Finn knew from the first time she saw a billboard displaying a beautiful Native woman and the words "Home of the first ever Miss Indian World" that she wanted to be Miss Indian World one day and make a difference.
"My father taught at our sister reservation, Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, and I passed that billboard every day," Finn said. "I didn't know what Miss Indian World meant, but I saw this beautiful lady in traditional regalia, smiling and happy, and dreamt that someday that would be me."
Finn ran for Miss Indian World in 2014, winning second runner up. Close to aging out at 25, she made one more attempt in 2016 and succeeded. In addition to public speaking and a powwow dance, Finn crafted her own dress, embellishing it with 500 pennies, which symbolizes Native and non-Native worlds. As Miss Indian World, Finn spent her reigning year traveling the world speaking on two important issues in many American Indian communities: suicide prevention and language preservation.
"I realized as I got older that you have to be Miss Indian World before you are Miss Indian World," Finn explained. "It takes a whole lot of work, you have to be culturally sound, a good public speaker, and so much more."
Finn grew up in Bismarck and the Porcupine district on Standing Rock Sioux Reservation and graduated from Century High School in 2009. She started at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas to study medicine. However, she took one criminal justice class and discovered her passion. In the midst of her second year at UNLV, she became ill. She needed treatment and wanted to be home, so she needed a four year institution to complete her degree. Considering how much she enjoyed her criminal justice class at UNLV, Finn reached out to Melissa Spelchen, director of MSU's criminal justice program at BSC, to learn how MSU could help her achieve her goal.
"I called her (Spelchen) last minute to see if she could help me get accepted for the spring semester, and I was accepted in two days," Finn exclaimed. "I wanted so badly to continue my education. I don't know how she did it, but she helped me get organized and into the classes I needed. MSU was so accommodating with everything, everybody was super helpful."
All wavering about her career choice ceased after Finn took classes from Cynthia Feland, South Central Judicial District judge.
"I liked shows like 'Cops' and 'Forensic Files,' Finn said, "but it wasn't until I met the Honorable Cynthia Feland taught us courtroom proceedings, and it was fascinating. I knew that's what I could do. There aren't many Native attorneys, and I knew I could help people."
Not only has Finn educated many during her travels around the world, but she too has been educated, going back to her semester abroad in Ireland, while attending MSU.
"I earned a minor in international business, so I was lucky MSU let me go abroad," Finn said. "I learned so much in Ireland! They have many similarities to our population, as people were imposed on who they are culturally. There was a loss of language at one time, they have special dances, traditions, stories, and I honestly really identified with them, and they thought the Native American culture was so cool!"
While in law school, Finn studied in Panama, Mexico, and most recently London. Finn earned a certificate in global arbitration and practice to compliment her juris doctorate degree.
Reminiscing back to the beautiful Native woman on the billboard, Finn advises all to search for the silver lining, dream big and focus on the positive. So what might the future hold for Miss Indian World?
"I do believe I will go back to my tribe if not now, later, as they helped me and supported me so much," Finn said. "The beauty of being Miss Indian World is I have the chance to demonstrate cultural awareness and diversity, and show how we've hung onto it all this time, and we are doing awesome things!"